State accused of UN rights breach over flats squalor


THE STATE is breaching a UN convention on social rights by failing to provide adequate housing conditions for residents of Dublin's Dolphin House flats, the president of the Irish Human Rights Commission has said.

Dr Maurice Manning was speaking at a "human rights hearing" on the conditions in the south inner city flats which have sewage backing up into sinks and baths and mould covering entire walls of bedrooms.

The hearing, believed to be the first of its kind, was also presented with the results of tests carried out by NUI Maynooth's biology department which found the level of fungal contamination in the flats represented a significant threat to health and could prove fatal for those with lung disorders.

Residents of the 1950s complex presented videos of their homes which showed black mould growing on walls, curtains and clothes, sinks and baths filled with sewage and water dripping down walls and windows.

A survey of the residents of 72 flats found 84 per cent regularly experienced sewage coming up through pipes and sinks, 72 per cent had damp in their flats, 64 per cent had mould growing in bathrooms and bedrooms, 93 per cent reported foul smells, 91 per cent of those who had damp or sewage problems said it was affecting their health and 86 per cent said they were dissatisfied with the response from Dublin City Council.

Dublin city manager John Tierney was invited to attend but declined.

The council said yesterday that it was anxious to work with the community to reach solutions it could afford to implement.

The event, chaired by RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy, heard residents had to store their clothes in plastic bags to stop them from going mouldy.

The pressure of back-flowing sewage forces out bath plugs, the hearing was told.

Adults and children had a number of medical conditions associated with their environment including asthma, respiratory infections, skin infections and stomach bugs.

Recent tests in a number of flats carried out by NUI Maynooth microbiologist Dr Kevin Kavanagh found evidence of Aspergillus fumigatus a fungus known to cause lung disease.

"The fungal contamination evident in these houses is far greater than I have ever recorded in domestic dwellings [ and] is a significant threat to the health of the occupants," he said.

Dr Manning said these living conditions put the State and its agent, Dublin City Council, in breach of the UN Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.

"That convention says there is a right to adequate housing.The evidence that has been presented here, to my mind, certainly represents a breach of the criteria laid down by the UN in relation to what constitutes adequate housing."

There were he said two "get out of jail cards" which the council or State could play.

They could claim they had inadequate resources and that the work was being done through "progressive realisation" that is that the council was working towards providing adequate housing.

The council failed to meet both these tests as they had the money to fix the problems in Dolphin House during the boom, but didn't, and they had showed no progress in fixing the sewage difficulties which had persisted for 20 years.

Dr Padraic Kenna, law lecturer at NUI Galway, said the conditions the State allowed Dolphin House residents to live in showed an "absolute disrespect for human dignity".

In a statement yesterday, Dublin City Council said it had paid for consultants to work with the community to come up with regeneration options "despite the fact that lack of money is an issue and is likely to be an issue for the foreseeable future".

The council said it would continue to work through the options with the community, until solutions acceptable to the community, and which the council could afford to implement, were reached.